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Sir Sean Connery - I have always hated that damned James Bond, I`d like to kill him

04-Oct-2004 • Bond News

This time next week, Sean Connery will be preparing to play one of the two roles for which he was born. The long march down Edinburgh's Royal Mile to open the new Scottish Parliament will be led, technically, by the Queen, but most eyes will be on the 74-year-old behind her, the uncrowned Greatest Living Scotsman, carrying his 6ft 2in with pride. There will, his confused admirers hope, be a genuine smile on his face, for a while. Too often, for too many years, he has been striding along as the cocksure embodiment of Wodehouse's saw that it has never been impossible to tell the difference between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine - reports The Guardian (UK).

It'll be a little better, this reception, than the time in 1983 when he went to his home city to film a documentary on his early working days - as a bricklayer, coffin-polisher, male model - but most famously delivering milk, from a dray-drawn wagon. He took time off, one lunchtime, to go for a pint in a former local, the Fountain. Drinkers were exuberantly unfazed at the return of the man, born and christened Thomas Connery 43 years before, who had created Britain's most successful film export. 'Hey, Tam, how's it going?' one drunk asked. 'Hiv you been away, then?'

Regularly voted the world's sexiest man. Certainly, always, voted the world's sexiest pensioner: he almost got away, even, with playing the male lead opposite Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment, despite a 39-year age gap. The best Bond ever. Revered style icon; the world's most imitated accent; the actor behind what has become the planet's most lucrative film series, and an Oscar to boot. And yet, undoubtedly, there's still a grievance.

He walked off the set of his latest movie, Josiah's Canon, leaving the Prague bank-heist without a star. Officially he was leaving to spend time co-writing his memoirs, but there are rumours of a deeper malaise. According to Variety, 'The headaches of mega-budget studio films have completely sapped his enthusiasm.' His agent refuses to confirm or deny reports that he is finally retiring: but all other sources indicate he has, to put it in his own vernacular, simply had it up to here with bloody movies.

When not filming, or failing to film, he has reportedly been sitting, bored, in his tax-haven home at Lyford Cay in the Bahamas, nursing a single malt, thinking sometimes of Scotland. He has a round of golf most mornings, usually with his wife Micheline, and then sits by the pool, pondering. Pondering, presumably, why it is, why it has always been, that he has such a confused, tortuous relationship with the very three things with which the world instantly associates him - women, Bond and Scotland.

Rumours of misogyny have followed him down the years, jumped on and repeated and elaborated upon by the more feral sections of the Scottish press, whose ambivalence towards Connery precisely echoes that afforded another local boy made great, Billy Connolly: they need him, for the spangle of magic his celebrity throws off, yet resent him for having left home, having got out.

For the record, here is what Connery told Playboy magazine in 1975. 'I don't think there is anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman - although I don't recommend doing it in the same way that you'd hit a man. An open-handed slap is justified, if all other alternatives fail and there has been plenty of warning. If a woman is a bitch, or hysterical, or bloody-minded continually, then I'd do it.'

Later, he added: 'I think one of the appeals that Bond has for women ... is that he is decisive, cruel even. By their nature women aren't decisive, and along comes a man who is absolutely sure of everything, and he's a godsend. And, of course, Bond is never in love with a girl and that helps.' His first wife, Diane Cilento, spoke of him 'having bashed my face in with his fists'.

Connery has reportedly regretted the comments. His book will, it is promised, set the record straight on Cilento (and the expletive-fuelled arguments with Bond producer Cubby Broccoli). But those who leap to damn him today could perhaps consider the fact that the comments were made in what were, in fact, fairly misogynist times.

Bond, Connery's Bond, it could be argued, could only have been created in the Fifties and Sixties. Ian Fleming's Bond girls weren't feisty heroines but sexual stereotypes. Fleming's Bond offered them not romance but lust; mild cruelty, even. Connery's interpretation, which every expert and every fan agrees was the definitive Bond, was brooding, earthy, unforgiving, dark; and, yes, more than a little misogynist.

Fleming reportedly got it fabulously wrong when he first met Connery, saying, 'I thought I would be meeting Commander Bond, not an overgrown stuntman.' What Fleming failed to see was the drive: Connery's dark, almost bitter, determination to succeed. His father was a lorry driver, his mother a charwoman ... everyone in his young life worked hard, all day, for little money.

He left school at 13, took one job after another, worked in the gym to beef up his body, and realised along the way that God had given him something - looks - which he could use to escape poverty. He almost went another route, getting an offer from Matt Busby to join Manchester United, but thought at the time that football was even riskier than acting. With no formal training, Connery was determined to work hard, determined to learn and never stop learning: it can be no coincidence that later in life he made such a success of characters which were essentially resourceful autodidacts, in The Russia House and The Name of the Rose, and as Indiana Jones's father.

So, when the dandyish Fleming was over-ruled, in 1962, by Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli, who could see in the handsome Scot what the Bond author could not, Connery worked hard, and instinctively, to commit the character perfectly to screen, believing in himself and his ambition so fully that he was able to quite forget he was still, in essence, a Scots navvie playing an upper-class spy. The producers' gamble paid off: when he strode onto screen in Dr No, pale grey suit worn like a skin, filling the frame, filling it even when walking away from the camera, his triangular figure every tailor's dream, his saturnine mouth every woman's, Bond was born.

He did other grand work: in The Hill, and Hitchcock's underrated Marnie. This tenement boy without a day's training was making a magnificent job of learning, every day, and brought a dark and believable passion to the job. But Bond was the role with which he became forever linked. It brought him the fame and the escape and, most importantly, the financial security he had always sought; whether it brought him deep satisfaction is open to interpretation. By the time of Diamonds are Forever he was so fed up with the money that he gave his fee to charity. 'I have always hated that damned James Bond,' he has said. 'I'd like to kill him.'

Diamonds was meant to be his last Bond. Not for the first time in his life, he changed his mind, which is why rumours of his movie death may be somewhat exaggerated. He often swore, for instance, that he would never write his autobiography; but has now signed a deal with HarperCollins worth a reported £2 million. He has also, along the way, upset some in his homeland by dropping his proposed co-writer, Meg Henderson, with whom he'd had a long association through charities, for Hunter Davies, currently riding high in the ghost-writer stakes after co-writing Paul Gascoigne's My Story .

If he's fallen out with bits of Scotland it won't be the first time. The late 1990s were a bad period: his espousal of the SNP's cause so angered Scottish Labour, whose tireless championing of devolution rather than full independence has at least resulted in this new Parliament, that his knighthood is widely believed to have been blocked. Connery was not happy, and it could be argued his feelings were justifiable. He was not only Scotland's but Britain's greatest ever star, and had done it all from one of the hardest starts in life, done it all himself, and yet was being refused the honour he felt he deserved because he had dared enter the snake-pit of Scots politics. Less justifiable, perhaps, is his resentment at Labour's attacks on his SNP pronouncements and broadcasts, written off once by Brian Wilson as 'the view from a Marbella saloon bar'. Connery's spokesman said, at the time, 'Sean is fed up of being thought of as a mega-rich tax exile who preaches to the Scots voters from afar' - but, in truth, can it be much of a surprise to him?

Much will be forgiven, next week. They might even forgive the ending of his film career, even if this is just a rumour, for he's changed his mind before: there is talk, still, of him rejoining the Bond series, as M, when Judi Dench bows out. They still love him, generally, in Scotland. Not despite the flaws, but because of them. Thrawn, difficult, selfish, intense, unforgiving, chippy. Driven, talented, professional, self-taught. Prone to both mawkish sentimentality and bone-dry wit. Never mind the true Bond: Tam Connery will be making a pretty good fist, till the end of his days, of the true, imperfect Scot.

Thanks to `Goldeneye` for the alert.

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